Pediatricians prescribe metric measures for doling out meds

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    Pediatricians are urging parents to reach for the right device when giving their child medicine.

    The new recommendation is to use only metric units, said Kate Cronan, an emergency medicine physician at Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware.

    “Families are grabbing a spoon from the kitchen,” Cronan said. “So they are getting a teaspoon out of their drawer, and they are using those as if those are always accurate.”

    A recent study found that medication errors are less common when parents use milliliter dosing.

    The new advice is a push to prevent overdosing.

    The abbreviations for teaspoon –tsp.— and tablespoon — tbsp.– are awfully similar.

    “That gets mixed up, so they may be giving a tablespoon, and it’s way more, three times more at least, than what they should be giving their child, and they didn’t realize that,” Cronan said.

    Cronan has seen kids come into the ER after ingesting too much cough syrup, but more commonly it’s surplus acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, or ibuprofen such as Advil or Motrin.

    “If a child gets too many doses, or too high a dose, for a day or two, it can ultimately cause liver damage,” said Cronan, medical editor of

    The American Academy of Pediatrics wants the entire health system to use metric units. That includes doctors who write prescriptions, pharmacists who interpret those instructions, and parents who dole out the medicine to their children.

    “If everyone is consistent, there’s less chance for confusion,” said Ian Paul, lead author on the new policy statement and a pediatrician at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

    He advises using a syringe with milliliter markings, even if you didn’t learn the metric system back in school.

    “The research has actually shown that parents get it. If the label says 5 mls — 5 milliliters — and you are given a syringe that has 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, they are going to dose to the 5,” Paul said.

    Cutlery from your kitchen drawer is not a great choice when administering medicine to  wiggling toddlers, Paul said.

    “Getting a syringe into a child’s mouth is much easier than balancing medication on a spoon,” he said.

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